Study after study has shown that genes can affect behavior and mental life. Identical twins separated at birth (who share their genes but not their environment) are similar in their intellectual talents, their personality traits (such as introversion, conscientiousness, and antagonism), their average level of lifelong happiness, and personal quirks such as giggling incessantly or flushing the toilet both before and after using it. Identical twins (who share all their genes) are more similar than fraternal twins (who share half their genes). And biological siblings (who share half their genes) are more similar than adopted siblings (who share none of their genes). It’s not only personality and intelligence that are partly heritable, but susceptibility to psychological maladies such as schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and major depression.
The discovery that genes have something to do with behavior came as a shock in an era in which people thought that the mind of a newborn was a blank slate and that anyone could do anything if only they strove hard enough. And it continues to set off alarm bells. Many people worry about a Brave New World in which parents or governments will try to re-engineer human nature. Others see genes as a threat to free will and personal responsibility, citing headlines such as “Man’s genes made him kill, his lawyers claim.” Behavioral geneticists are sometimes picketed, censored, or compared to Nazis.
With increasing knowledge of how the genome works, many beliefs about ourselves will indeed have to be rethought. But the worst fears of the genophobes are misplaced. It is easy to exaggerate the significance of behavioral genetics for our lives.
For one thing, genes cannot pull the strings of behavior directly. Behavior is caused by the activity of the brain, and the most the genes can do is affect its wiring, its size and shape, and its sensitivity to hormones and other molecules. Among the brain circuits laid down by the genes are ones that reflect on memories, current circumstance, and the anticipated consequences of various courses of action and that select behavior accordingly, in an intricate and not entirely predictable way. These circuits are what we call “free will,” and providing them with information about the likely consequences of behavioral options is what we call “holding people responsible.” All normal people have this circuitry, and that is why the existence of genes with effects on behavior should not be allowed to erode responsibility in the legal system or in everyday life.
Also, don’t count on the I’ll-let-you-go-now gene –or any other single gene with a large behavioral effect — being identified any time soon. Behavioral genetics has uncovered a paradox. Studies that measure similarities among twins and adoptees reliably show strong effects of sharing many genes (such as half a genome, or all of one). The outcome is so reliable that behavioral geneticists now speak of the First Law of their field: that all behavioral traits are partly heritable.
But studies that try to isolate a single gene for a behavioral trait have been fickle; many of putative genes-for-X have not held up in replications. Genes must exert their effects by acting together in complex combinations. A rough analogy: a computer program can have a trait, such as being easy to use, without necessarily having a single magical programming instruction that makes any program easy to use when added and any program hard to use when omitted.
So psychological engineering is more remote than the futurologists would have you believe. Though musical talent may be partly heritable, there is probably no single gene for musical talent that ambitious parents can have implanted into their unborn children. It might take hundreds or thousands of the right genes, with a different combination needed for each child.
Finally, the fact that genes matter doesn’t mean that other things don’t matter. Some of these causes are obvious. There are no genes for speaking English or for being a Presbyterian (though there may be sets of genes for verbal skill and religiosity). These depend entirely on one’s culture. Others are less obvious, such as germs, accidents, chance encounters in life, and random events in the development of the brain in utero.
And still other environmental factors may not act as we think they do. It’s easy to assume that the variation in behavior that is not caused by genes must be caused by parents. But it’s been surprisingly hard to demonstrate any long-term effects of growing up in a particular family within a culture. Identical twins reared together are similar, but they are not literally identical: one may be more anxious than the other, one may be gay and the other straight. This shows that genes are not everything – but since these twins grow up in the same family, it also shows that what isn’t explained by genes isn’t explained by family influences either. Similarly, children need to hear English to acquire it. But if their parents are immigrants, they end up with the accent of their peers, not their parents.
Though the effects of genes may be easy to overestimate, they are also easy to underestimate. Many failed utopias of the twentieth century dreamed of nurturing a “new man” free of selfishness, family ties, and individual differences. Some psychotherapists promise what they cannot deliver, such as transforming a shy person into a bold one or a sad sack into a barrel of monkeys.
None of this means that social and personal improvement are a waste of time. Even if each of us is born with a range of temperament and talent, we can try to reach the best point in that range. And even if we have a nature, part of that nature is an open-ended ingenuity that can think up possible solutions to our problems. Using our genes as an excuse for fatalism is unwise. But so is pretending that they don’t matter at all.
"To these patients, their disease had become part of their life, their identity, as assisted them in creating a sense of emotional balance. Rationally, they wanted to get rid of the disease; but emotionally, they missed it, as if they had lost a close friend."
Cyclothymia is a mild form of bipolar disorder. It is characterized by mood fluctuations that shift between depressive and hypomanic phases. Cyclothymics do not experience the extremes of major depression or manic episodes.
The depressive or hypomania symptoms of cyclothymia may last for a few days to several weeks at a time, with brief intervals of normal mood in between. Personality changes are often evident to family and friends. Individuals who have a stable mood for longer than two months at a time are not likely cyclothymic. Symptoms may be mimicked by substance abuse, borderline personality disorder, or other mood disorder. A family history of depressive or bipolar disorders increases the risk.
Symptoms of Cyclothymia
- Excessive confidence and self-esteem
- Reduced ability to concentrate, easily distracted
- Sleep difficulties, excessive energy
- Heightened irritability
- Reduced inhibitions, may make foolish decisions
- Hypomania lasts between several days and several weeks
- Feelings of inadequacy, low self-confidence
- Difficulty falling asleep, unrestful sleep
- Fatigue, lack of energy
- Negative thinking, feelings of guilt and sadness
- Loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities
- Depression lasting between several days and several weeks
The cycling between phases must be present for at least two years for a diagnosis (one year for teenagers). Work and family life are often negatively affected by the shifting moods.
Differences by Gender and Age
Cyclothymia, like the related bipolar disorder, affects men and women in roughly equal numbers. The disorder typically begins in the teenage or young adult years. Onset later in life is rare, and may be brought on by substance abuse or certain medications. Cyclothymia may progress to bipolar, though treatment may prevent this.
Melancholic depression, or ‘depression with melancholic features’ is a subtype of major depression characterized by major depressive disorder with the following specific features: anhedonia (the inability to find pleasure in positive things), severe weight loss, psychomotor agitation or retardation, insomnia with early morning awakenings, and guilt. Another feature is diurnal variation, typically with worse symptoms in the morning and improvement at night. Melancholic depression is a particularly severe form of depression. Treatment involves: antidepressants, electroconvulsive therapy, and supportive psychotherapy, as deeper psychotherapy can not be tolerated. The incidence of melancholic depression has been found to increase when the temperature and/or sunlight are low. Roughly 10% of people with depression suffer from melancholic depression. According to DSM-IV the Melancholic features specifier may be applied to the following only:
- Major depressive episode, single episode
- Major depressive episode, recurrent episode
- Bipolar I disorder, most recent episode depressed
- Bipolar II disorder, most recent episode depressed
The more time adolescent girls spend in front of Facebook, the more their chances of developing a negative body image and various eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and exaggerated dieting. This has been shown in a new study from the University of Haifa.
Eating disorders include a wide spectrum of abnormal mental and behavioral conducts related to food and body weight, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. This study, conducted by Prof. Yael Latzer, Prof. Ruth Katz and Zohar Spivak of the Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences at the University of Haifa, set out to examine the effects of two factors on the development of eating disorders in young girls: exposure to the media and self-empowerment.
A group of 248 girls aged 12-19 (average age: 14.8) took part in the survey. These girls were asked to provide information on their Internet and television viewing habits. Regarding the latter, they were asked to give the number of popular shows related to extreme standards of physical image (the “Barbie” model) that they watched. The girls also filled out questionnaires that examined their approach to slimming, bulimia, physical satisfaction or dissatisfaction, their general outlook on eating, and their sense of personal empowerment.
The results showed that the more time girls spend on Facebook, the more they suffered conditions of bulimia, anorexia, physical dissatisfaction, negative physical self-image, negative approach to eating and more of an urge to be on a weight-loss diet. Extensive online exposure to fashion and music content showed similar tendencies, but manifested in fewer types of eating disorders. As such, the more the exposure to fashion content on the Internet, the higher a girl’s chances of developing anorexia. A similar direct link was found between viewing gossip- and leisure-related television programs (the likes of “Gossip Girl”) and eating disorders in adolescent girls. The study also revealed that the level of personal empowerment in these girls is negatively linked to eating disorders, such that the higher the level of empowerment, the more positive the physical self-image and the lower the chances of developing an eating disorder.
In this study, exposure to the media and the consequential sense of personal empowerment was found to be associated to parenting practices. Girls whose parents were involved in their media usage; who knew what they were viewing and reading and where they were surfing on the web; who watched, surfed or read along with them; and who conducted cooperative and critical discussions with their daughters about the content of their surfing habits, showed more personal empowerment, forming a protective shield against eating disorders.
On the other hand, parents who were not involved in their media exposure, were not aware of the content that their daughters were consuming, and instead of sharing and becoming familiar with that content chose to limit or prohibit exposure, led to lower self-empowerment in their daughters. This, in turn, has a positive link to various eating problems and negative body image.
“Significant potential for future research and application of eating disorder prevention lies in an understanding of how parenting decisions can have effect on an adolescent girl’s sense of empowerment and that enforcing a girl’s sense of empowerment is a means to strengthening body image. This study has shown that a parent has potential ability to prevent dangerous behavioral disorders and negative eating behavior in particular,” the researchers stated.
Lets get another perspective to look at!
Below are some things doctors and therapists have said to ED-patients…
It’s unbelievable what kind of dicks get to be therapists. I had to learn that by experience.